Thursday, January 12, 2012

Onetime Taliban stronghold / FRI 1-13-12 / Eaters of halal food / Natural Affection playwright / Nine Stories title girl / Rachel McAdams's Sherlock Holmes role

Constructor: Todd Gross and Doug Peterson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TORA BORA (33A: Onetime Taliban stronghold) —
Tora Bora [...] , is a cave complex situated in the White Mountains (Safed Koh) (Safed Koh is the Dari form for Spin Ghar) of eastern Afghanistan, in the Pachir Wa Agam District of Nangarhar province, approximately 50 km (31 mi) west of the Khyber Pass and 10 km (6.2 mi) north of the border of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. Tora Bora was known to be an important area for the Taliban and insurgency against the Soviet Union in the 80's. Tora Bora and the surrounding White Mountain range had natural caverns formed by streams eating into the limestone. (wikipedia)
• • •
36 black squares? In a themeless? Not sure I've seen that before. 33 last week, for instance, and that was in a 72-worder (the maximum). There's only 66 words in this thing.

This puzzle was over almost before it began. Started off with a dead-obvious 1A: Eaters of halal food (MUSLIMS) and from there the top section was done in about a minute. The middle section, however, proved somewhat more challenging. STRIPLINGS was by far the hardest word for me to come up with (3D: Youth). In fact, the very last letter I put in this damned thing was the "L" in STRIPLINGS / PALISH (?) (21A: Unhealthily light). I half-resent the clue on PALISH. I'm flat-out PALE and don't think I'm unhealthy. TAN is unhealthy. But I'll leave my ghostly gripings aside for now. More problems in the middle: I couldn't find TORA BORA on a map, sadly, so I certainly had no idea it had anything to do with the Taliban, and I (like half of humanity, I'm guessing) I fell for the AVATAR fake-out (38A: Hit film directed by James Cameron (ALIENS)), despite having FAULT (and thus the "L") in place to begin with (28D: Geologist's big break?). Then the bottom was super-easy again. Got MANIFOLD off the "D" (48A: Car exhaust part), and then dropped a bunch of the short stuff down off of that. Doubt the bottom took me any longer than the top. So, wicked easy in parts, but only Easy-Medium overall. As for the puzzle as a whole: I like the fill, but don't enjoy the grid shape. Well, I like looking at it, and it made the puzzle easy to solve, but it feels slightly ... cheap; I need a better word that sounds less derogatory. None of the fill is very exciting. Doug Peterson usually has a handful of winners in his grids. Not sure what happened here.

  • 11D: Partridge family setting (NEST) — I really should've noticed that lowercase "f" ...
  • 30D: Rachel McAdams's "Sherlock Holmes" role (IRENE ADLER) — never saw it, but woman + Sherlock Holmes = only one (very crosswordy) thing. Another super-easy clue.
  • 22D: "Natural Affection" playwright (INGE) — could've been "Any Title" playwright and I'd have handled it the same way—wait for at least one cross and then dip into my trusty arsenal of 4-letter playwrights.
  • 14D: "Nine Stories" title girl (ESME) — yet another common crossword name. Do crosswords long enough, and you know ESME (also a name from the "Twilight" universe, FYI).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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